Technological Impacts to Determinants of Health

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Healthcare is moving beyond physical, biological, behavioral and environmental components to also address the social determinants of health, and technology is showing great promise in capturing and analyzing this data related to whole-person health.

Healthcare providers generally point to five factors that determine the health of a population:

  • Biologic
  • Behavioral
  • Social
  • Physical
  • Access to Health Services

Many behavioral determinants popular today are focused primarily on substance abuse. One in eight emergency department visits has a primary diagnosis related to mental health or substance abuse and those patients wait on average two hours longer. More patients are seeking treatment for mental health or substance abuse – they are staying longer, they are costing more and they are swamping an already overloaded healthcare system.


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Treating only the physical ailments while ignoring the behavioral has negative effects on the entire healthcare system. In primary care, providers treat causes, not symptoms, but emergency department providers are routinely treating the effects of substance abuse without knowledge of what caused the abuse, and outcomes are negatively affected. The healthcare industry must address all health determinants to ensure population health years forward and innovative organizations are leading the charge.

More patients are seeking treatment for mental health or substance abuse, they are staying longer, they are costing more, and they are swamping an already overloaded healthcare system.

The State of Nebraska Division of Behavioral Health is utilizing a population health tracking system to understand how state dollars allocated to mental health and substance abuse are impacting outcomes. The system is trending demographic, health status, trauma history, substance use, assessment and outcome data points over time, location and provider quadrants to drive future treatment and access options. This analysis benefits not just the client, the state, and the provider, but also benefits the rural critical access hospitals who treat these patients in their emergency departments.

The State of Colorado Office of Behavioral Health is utilizing sophisticated integration and patient matching software within the population health tracking system to integrate behavioral health data with Health Information Exchange (HIE). Patient admission and medication information will be combined with behavioral health and substance abuse data in a business intelligence suite, allowing for complex analysis of all these data points.

Progress is not limited to state entities. Front-line caregivers are using these same tools to develop care plans and track data points for their client base. While these tools have always been available to the primary care provider, they are now affordable to the behavioral health sector and their value proposition is quickly becoming apparent.

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.

Originally published February 21, 2018, updated July 5, 2018